Besides my main focus within linguistics, i.e. formal semantics, I have always liked historical linguistics. Therefore it has been a passion of mine to try to combine the rigor of formal semantics with the general mechanisms of semantic change in historical linguistics. It seems to me now that a new field called Formal Diachronic Semantics has successfully emerged in both Europe and the USA.
The following is a brief account of the origin and development of formal diachronic semantics as I know it. My account is probably not the most accurate and I apologize in advance if any major research papers or any major figures are not described accurately in my account here.
So here we go. Although the idea of a formal treatment of diachronic semantics can be traced as far back as 1995 when Kai von Fintel published a paper titled “The formal semantics of grammaticalization” (Proceedings of the North East Linguistics Society (NELS) ed. by Jill N. Beckman, 175-190. Amherst, MA: GLSA), the new research direction did not pick up any steam for 10 years after that. There were probably only a couple of papers that dealt with such topics within these 10 years. Then in 2006, Regine Eckardt published a book titled “Meaning Change in Grammaticalization: An Enquiry into Semantic Reanalysis” (Oxford: Oxford University Press). I think this is another milestone in the development of Read more… »